On hot, sunny days, your babies are going to be exposed to harmful sun rays even if you stay in the shade - make sure they are well protected with sun cream or sun block, but make sure that the products you apply are suitable for babies.
Sun creams work in one of two ways. Chemical creams bond with the skin to create a protective layer from the harmful ultra violet rays from the sun. Physical 'block' creams form a surface over the skin and, although mostly invisible, preventing harmful rays from reaching the skin.
Make sure you use blocking creams for babies. These are mineral based, usually listing titanium or zinc as their active ingredients, and characteristically don't rub in so well, often even leaving a faint glaze over the body. This may not look great, but is good news as you can see the sunblock in effect.
Sun creams marketed at children should be the physical sun block type so it is worth seeking out those products specifically, even if they are more expensive than adult sun creams and even if they don't appear to 'rub in' well.
There is also some concern that chemical based sun creams may be carcinogenic as tests on animals have shown that some ingredients cause cancer cells to multiply more quickly and have also led to developmental problems. Perhaps it's best that you also started using the kids' suncream just to be sure...
A fun day out with your little ones can be enormously rewarding all round; have you ever considered an outing to watch aeroplanes? You might think that airports are only for international commuters and holidaymakers, but they are often easily accessible to anyone to simply turn up and watch to explore what is going on.
Parking costs at airports can be prohibitively expensive, but they are generally well served by public transport, with buses and trains bringing people in. If getting to an airport by public transport is too complex from where you live, try driving to a nearby location where you can pick up a bus or train for the last part. Many airports have special recreational visitor centres, some with family activities running regularly.
If you don't live close to an airport, then do some research to see if there are any airfields nearby that allow you to enter and watch light aircraft coming and going. Airfields won't be serviced by the same public transport network that airports benefit from, but there is quite likely parking available on site and it may also be free. Airfields often have a public terminal which you may be able to access and may well have a nice coffee shop for you to sit in, overlooking the airfield.
The highlight of an airport visit will be watching planes take off and land, but airports offer plenty more to observe too. Watch planes being serviced - loaded with bags, meals and fuel; look at the check-in desks with bags flying everywhere; and watch the crowds of people coming and going. Use the day as a point of conversation to talk about air travel and worldwide destinations and undertake related activities on your return.
Do remember that airports and airfields are sensitive about national security, so don't park or loiter in places that you shouldn't be or you may well find you are moved on by authorities or the police.
There's something about trains that just captivates young children, a fascination that can even last well beyond childhood! What is it about trains that children find so fascinating?
Toy trains are almost as old as the railways themselves. Young children, especially boys but also girls, enjoy lining up carriages into a train and pulling it along the floor or along a railway track. Children enjoy the sense of order that making a train offers. Trains have long played an important role in popular culture, first with books and then with television programmes featuring anthropomorphic trains such as Thomas the Tank Engine, Ivor the Engine and Chuggington. Real trains can bring excitement to young children - they will point out trains as they pass over a bridge in the distance, or when they see them from a car window.
If you live near a railway line or a station, take the children out for a walk and wait at a point where you can spot some trains. Talk with your little ones about what they are and what they do. Explain how lots of people can travel on a train. Make the noises that a train makes, point out and mimic the clickety-clack that the carriages make as they pass over joins in the rails. See if you can see signals and explain what they mean.
Seeing trains is an outing in itself for your little ones. What might appear to be perfectly mundane to you may create deep impressions on your children that last for many years to come.
OK, so the notion of playing in meadows probably harks back to a romantic Victorian era, but there are lots of games and japes that can be played in the park! Exploring wild flowers and plants helps children discover new things. Here are some fun elements to explore next time you're walking in the park, or passing through any outdoor areas:-
Sticky Bombs and Darts: Explore some of the fascinating seeds that can stick to you. Nature has created these so that they stick to passing animals such as birds and foxes. The seeds are then dispersed by the host animal when they fall off later. Look out for teazles and goose grass, also grass spears that have gone to seed can cling on with their tiny hooks. Great for older kids to throw at each other!
Firing Bombs: Look out for plantains which have a tall stem and a seed head on top. Pick one with a long stem and tie a knot in it. Pull the stem near the head through the small hole and the head will fire off in the opposite direction...hours of fun!
Butterlicious: Do you like butter? Hold a buttercup under your little ones chin and if it reflects a shiny yellow gleam then they like butter! Have your little ones do this on you, they love this simple trick.
Telling the Time: Pick a dandelion that has gone to furry seed. Count how many puffs it takes to disperse all the seeds. Each puff represents an hour, so four puffs suggests that the time is four o'clock. Hmm, perhaps digital clocks are slightly more accurate!
Daisy Chains: Great for developing fine motor skills, but probably not a good activity for the very youngest! Pick a handful of daisies and make a chain by carefully splitting the stem and passing the stem of the next daisy through. Make a necklace and bracelet for your youngest children.
Fairies: Keep an eye open for 'fairies', fluffy seeds from dandelions or other plants just floating past on a warm day.
Nectar: Find some 'dead nettles', the flowering nettles that don't sting, and pull off one of the flowers. Suck the base of the flower and you will taste the nectar which is just like honey. Look for clover plants and do the same, pull off a clump of the petals and suck nectar from the base.
Fruit Picking: Look out for wild fruit later in the season. Wild blackberries are very common but beware the thorns on the brambles. Look out for other fruit trees that might be growing wild, such as cherries, plums, apples and pears. You may find other soft fruits like blackcurrants and redcurrants.
Do you remember any old games that you used to play in your own childhood?
Public transport in the UK is run by a variety of commercial companies and there are generally different fare structures and rules in place across different modes and networks. On the whole, though, children under the age of five years can travel for free, without any ticket or form of identity. There is usually a limit to how many children can travel with a single paying adult, that limit is four. In London, children aged 5 - 10 can continue to travel free on services provided by Transport for London, (buses and trams) but they may need an Oyster Zip card to prove that they are under 10.
Given that public transport is easy and cheap for little ones, why not consider taking them on an outing on a bus or a train? ...or why not see how many types of public transport vehicle you can ride in a day? Can you go on a regular bus, a 'double decker' and a train? If you live in the right area you might be able to add on an underground train or a tram even?
In London there are other fun and slightly different systems including the Docklands Light Railway, river buses and the brand new cable car cutting across the river between North Greenwich (O2 Arena) and Royal Victoria (near Excel). The river bus provides a wonderful way to travel from Docklands into the centre of London, with services as far out as Hampton, Kingston, Putney and Richmond. The river bus is by far the cheapest river ride available on the Thames.
Pack a picnic and plan a round trip using public transport. The children will love it and you will explore and see new places and experiences along the way.
If you've managed a trip to the cinema recently, you might have noticed some recent releases have taken classic fairy tales to a new level. Both Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman retell parts of the Snow White story.
This is just the beginning of a Hollywood obsession with fairy tales - over the next 4 years over fifty films based on classic tales are set for release, including Cinderella (2), Peter Pan (4), the Wizard of Oz (7 plus a TV series and a silver screen adaptation of the musical Wicked), Hansel and Gretl (3), Sinbad (4) and many more.
Some may sink without trace, but if you enjoy a good old fairy tale, look forward to being indulged over the coming years. Don't expect to take the children along to enjoy these films though, many are being rated PG, 12 and higher, as the various twists make them too black for youngsters, include modern vices in contemporary settings, or have underlying themes of wickedness!
One of the joys of having preschool children is that you needn't be confined to your home - there are plenty of places that you can take young children that allow you the freedom to be out, and that extend their understanding of the world around them. When you think of places to go out with your children, some of the obvious places are the local park, playgroups and soft play - these are obviously child-oriented.
But consider also other places that might not otherwise spring to mind. Take them on a bus or a train - you don't need to head anywhere special, just take them for a ride. Take them to shopping centres not simply to shop, but to explore the spaces. Sit and talk with your little ones about what you can see. Go to your local library and swimming pool, visit any local museums or galleries.
Although you may not consider many of these spaces to be 'child friendly', preschool children will find plenty to keep them stimulated in even, what might appear to you to be, the most ordinary environments. Remember that the world offers so many new experiences for babies and toddlers and just being out and about will stimulate them far more than you might imagine. They are constantly taking in new sights, smells and sounds, and everything that they experience is building up their knowledge and understanding of the world. Babies and young toddlers will go wherever you take them and every day presents new adventures for them.
The National Trust has launched a challenge to get children to do a variety of activities that they may not have considered doing. Called '50 Things To Do Before You're 11 ¾', lots of the activities can be undertaken by very young children. A few activities encourage you to visit a National Trust property in your own area, but many can be done in the garden or in the park. Participating in the challenge is FREE!
Set out to try to undertake as many of the 50 activities with your little ones over the Summer. You may have to simplify versions of some of the activities for really small children, but with your help, even little toddlers will be able to do lots of them, such as 'Bury someone in the sand', 'Climb a huge hill' or 'Eat an apple from a tree'.
Find full details of the National Trust's challenge here: 50 Things To Do Before You're 11 ¾.
If you're not the sort naturally to be inclined to go on long walks, then make it into a great game and join the geocaching craze! If you've never heard of it, there's a whole secret world waiting to be discovered by you, and it starts just outside your doorstep! Take the kids out to your favourite parks and open spaces and you'll almost certainly find hidden treasure waiting for you - even in parks that you thought you knew like the back of your hand. The kids will quickly become addicted and you'll find yourself geocaching wherever you go.
Geocaching is a treasure hunt. All over the country, in fact the world, are thousands and thousands of little treasure chests. The majority are actually old film canisters (remember those?!) while larger ones might be small tupperware boxes. Inside you will find little toys and often a pencil and a log sheet. The idea is that you have to find them and when you do so, you are entitled to take one of the toys as a prize, but you must also replace it with something else for the next person. Small prizes might be a coin, marble, plastic soldier, rubber creepy-crawlies, or anything else.
How to find them? These things are, quite literally, littered across the nation. A central database has them all logged by GPS coordinates (latitude and longitude). If you have a smartphone then go along to your app store and you'll find a variety of apps to help you locate and navigate to these secret hideaways. Your mobile phone will help you arrive at the right place through its GPS system, you'll see your progress on an onscreen map as you close in on the cache. Coordinates are accurate to a few metres, and caches have a hint that helps you find them, often describing a tree or bench where the container will be found. Find out more and view the database of geocaches online at http://www.geocaching.com.
You might not think that taking your kids along to a highbrow stately home seems much of a day out, but if you've not done this before, try it, see and be amazed! The UK has hundreds of palaces, castles, stately homes, gardens, country homes and parks. The National Trust, English Heritage, Historic Royal Palaces and Historic Houses Association curate hundreds of historic properties around the nation. Fine one near you and enjoy a lovely day out.
These properties usually have delightful gardens and extended parkland that young children will adore. Perhaps you'll find a deer park, or grotto's to climb or beautiful lakes to wander around? Formal gardens will provide a splendid backdrop for make believe games or simply to run around. Look out for large vegetable gardens, smell herb beds and delight at the colour of beautiful herbaceous borders.
The homes themselves might have fabulous treasures to marvel at. You will see old fashioned artifacts. Historic kitchens are great to explore as you can see old tools that are replaced by modern kitchen gadgets. Don't expect young children to spend ages looking at every detail in every room, but wander through the property at a pace they are comfortable with and when you see them take an interest in something, talk with them, describe it and tell them what it is. Discuss with older children what the differences are between these homes and your own - look around formal drawing rooms and work out how historical occupants used to pass their time without televisions or the internet!
Find a property to visit near you by visiting these websites:-
Take your little ones to a park and look and listen to see animals communicating with each other, talk about how we talk to each other to communicate, and describe what other animals are doing. Look out for dog walkers who might be talking to their dogs, shouting commands to them. Look at how the dog responds, how do they show that they are happy? How do they play with their owners?
Listen out for birds calling to one another. When birds sing they are often exchanging song with a partner or potential mate. See if you can stand near to where a bird is singing and listen to its bursts of song. Then listen in the gaps between and see if you can hear thesame notes repeated back by another bird at a distance. Birds often exchange song in this way for minutes, you must just be patient to listen out for this and recognise that the communication is not simply one bird singing, but two birds exchanging notes.
Ponds should provide more evidence of animals communicating, especially when young ducklings have hatched. Look at how parent ducks protect their young from intruders - they will squawk at other birds and even people that step too close to their brood. Look at how ducks might peck each other to 'fight' over a partner. At the right time of year you might also hear the sounds made by frogs who make a terrific mating call, using sound to attract a partner.
Listen to what other noises you can hear from the park thamight interrupt birds communicating over distance. Can you hear the sounds of traffic? ...trains? ...aeroplanes? All this noise pollution has a detrimental effect on animals being able to communicate. Talk with your little ones about how this will impact their ability to communicate and demonstrate how you have to talk louder yourself as you approach the noise of traffic.
The summer holidays are the classic time to visit the great theme parks, stately homes and other tourist attractions around the country, but if you have pre-school children, you can enjoy much more rewarding visits just outside of school holidays. Many attractions give special entry offers, such as 'Mum's Go Free', or they entice you with offers on food in restaurants etc. School holidays represent peak periods for most attractions who are desperate to attract custom at other times when they are quiet. As most other children are stuck in classrooms, venues are so much less busy meaning that you can enjoy better views, play on more rides and just enjoy a less crowded day out.
The best times to take advantage are midweek days close to the start or end of school holidays as other visitors often overlook these days. Do check that attractions are open first as some may close during quiet times, or offer limited opening times or limited access.
This is a great opportunity to visit any attractions on your doorstep that you might have overlooked in the past. Often we ignore the attractions close to home, go along and visit them as you might find a local treasure that you come back to time and time again.
Chinese New Year is a great, colourful celebration and goes on for a while, this year starting officially on the 23rd January, so you can do these activities and ideas for a few weeks yet.
Occasionally it might be necessary or useful for a nursery or school to ask for parent helpers - you may wish to go on a trip or need extra supervisors to visit a local landmark. This is great for the parents to get involved, great for the children whose parents are being invited to come along... but it can be less than great for the childcare providers or teachers unless the guidelines are laid down in advance. You don't want the parent just helping their own child and tending to their needs and theirs' alone to the detriment of other little ones.
Guidelines for Parent Helpers could include information such as:
Parent helpers do not have to be CRB checked if they are working with children in groups and alongside other qualified practioners but they should be CRB checked if they are going to be alone at any time with the children.
On 12th January 2012 an exhibition of paintings by Quentin Blake will open at the Foundling Museum, London, featuring illustrations of mothers and their babies.
Quentin Blake is one of Britain’s best-loved illustrators having created the now iconic images for Roald Dahl novels and stories. This exhibition entitled "As Large As Life" shows work he created for four hospitals which were designed to have a calming, relaxing effect on the hospital visitors. Over sixty works were created for a children’s hospital, a maternity hospital, young people with eating disorders and mental health patients.
Depicted in the pictures are senior circus performers juggling and tightrope walking, creatures from Planet Zog, youngsters enjoying everyday life and mothers and babies meeting for the first time underwater.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a programme of events, including family activities, talks and a reading corner decorated with Blake’s recent designs for wallpapers. The exhibition at the Foundling Museum, Brunswick Square, London WC1N 1AZ. More information can be found at the Foundling Museum's website.
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